The University of California Institute for Research in the Arts supports embedded arts research through critical exchange

Tyler Stallings’ “Aridtopia: Essays on Art & Culture from Deserts in the Southwest United States” featured at the LA Times Festival of Books, April 12 & 13, Booth 340

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on the USC Campus, April 12 & 13, 2014, 10 AM-5 PM, free admission

Directions to USC Campus

Location of “Aridtopia” Booth 340—Come by to meet the author and pick up an autographed copy!

Booth located in Founder’s Park on USC Campus near the “Poetry” section

Or order here:



Book Announcement
Acclaimed Author and Curator Explores Art & Culture in Deserts of the Southwest United States

Aridtopia: Essays on Art & Culture from Deserts in the Southwest United States
By Tyler Stallings
Trade Paper ISBN 978-0-9859495-3-2
$24.95, 262 pp. with 48 photographs
Release Date: May 2014

In a personal and lyrical style, critically acclaimed author and contemporary art curator Tyler Stallings creates a literary mirage in Aridtopia: Essays on Art & Culture from Deserts in the Southwest United States that fuses present day reality and a future imaginary which repositions our view of the world from that of the desert.

The book will be released to the public for the first time at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, April 12 &13, 2014, held on the University of Southern California campus in downtown Los Angeles. There will be a special “Aridtopia” booth where the author will be present to answer questions and sign books.

The essays represent a state of mind born in an arid region. It is a book that is both manifesto and commentary. It is a mash up of references to popular culture, academic discourse, and speculative ideas about society. An Aridtopian recognizes that the desert is a setting for so much that co-exists unexpectedly: survivalists, military bases, legacies of Native American and settler conflicts, water wars, love for open vistas, and full of people who go there to experience the desert’s openness in order to reconnect to the vast, cosmic spaciousness beyond this planet. The airiness between vegetation, mountains, and even people allows room for the mind, soul, and spirit to wonder. For centuries, spiritual seekers have gone into the desert. The openness allows for secrecy too. Doomsayers will sometimes set up their fortresses there, while the military will establish secret operations too.

The thread throughout many of the essays, and the source of the book’s title is Stallings’ thought experiment Aridtopia. It is a speculative, secessionist community set in the southwest United States, an inspired concept after Stallings read Ernest Callenbach’s 1975 novel, Ectotopia. That story’s setting is the secession of Washington, Oregon, and northern California from the U.S. in order to create what he called a “steady-state” society, a precursor to “sustainability.”

Exploring many topics, Stallings says, “Over the years, I’ve written about the impact of hearing whistles throughout the day and night in Riverside from successive trains carrying goods from Long Beach ports to the rest of the country; to listening to the imperceptible sub-sonic sounds with special instruments around Area 51; to the science-fiction like terraforming of desert land into new developments; to viewing empty and full swimming pools as sites of masculine reconfigurations; to tracing a new golden age in the aerospace industry as entrepreneurs near Edwards Air Force Base invent new means for transporting private citizens into space at a low-cost; to the sacred geography of mountains and rocks that resonate still with living Cahuilla people and also inspire contemporary artists.”

A stark, white line crosses the desert surface. It is one segment of a miles long, nearly seven-foot circumference, metal pipe, or siphon, transporting water from the Owens Valley River to Los Angeles. The siphon’s extreme straightness suggests a contemporary rendition of the ancient Nazca Lines in Peru, which often took the shapes of regional animals; some seemingly visible from an aerial viewpoint only. Zigzags of this same pipe are atop hills in the distance; perhaps suggesting a slithering rattlesnake over the landscape, at least as seen from the sky, or the satellite image on my phone. The reflection of the sun off the chalk-like paint covering the pipe is blinding. I walk across the powdered desert sand to touch its side. No sensation of rushing water—of the Sierra Nevada’s blood—beneath the metal, as I had expected.

Inspiring and thought-provoking, Aridtopia: Essays on Art & Culture from Deserts in the Southwest United States will keep readers reflecting long into the cool nights of the desert.

What other author and editors are saying

“The desert is a place where Native American and settler conflicts, water and land-use issues, survivalists, military bases, experimental aircraft launches, and so much more converge in a new consciousness, which Aridtopia so deftly observes.”
—Deanne Stillman, author of Desert Reckoning, Twentynine Palms, and Mustang.

“Tyler Stallings traces the burgeoning contemporary arts and culture scene in the deserts of the southwest. While the region lacks water, it is far from being a cultural desert, as Stallings’ Aridtopia explores a creative environment that fosters the spirit of innovation and expansive imaginations as vast as the infinite horizon.”
–Drew Tewksbury, managing editor / producer Artbound on KCET

“Stallings’ Aridtopia blends cultural criticism, personal observation, and an artistic sensibility. Today, it seems so much is happening in the deserts around the globe. Perhaps Aridtopia is destined to become a guidebook from a desert point of view?”
—Greg Esser, Director, Desert Initiative: Desert One, Arizona State University

About the Author

Tyler Stallings is the editor and contributor to numerous books on art and culture that focus on identity, technology, photography, popular culture, and desert studies. He has been a columnist for print and online journals. He writes about artists and individuals who are highly engaged with their political, social, and ecological environment. His personal essays often take a What If? speculative perspective. He is the Artistic Director at Culver Center of the Arts and Director of Sweeney Art Gallery at UCR ARTSblock at University of California, Riverside. Aridtopia is his first book of collected essays. For more information on other books edited by and contributed to by Stallings, including downloadable essays, visit the author’s website at

Other Books Edited and Contributed to by Tyler Stallings since 1994: Are We Touched? Identities From Outer Space; Desmothernismo: Rubén Ortiz Torres; Free Enterprise: The Art of Citizen Space Exploration; Sandow Birk’s “In Smog and Thunder: Historical Works from The Great War of the Californias”; The Signs Pile Up: Paintings by Pedro Álvarez; Surf Culture—The Art History of Surfing; Truthiness: Photography as Sculpture; Uncontrollable Bodies: Testimonies of Identity and Culture, and Whiteness, A Wayward Construction.

Discussion Guide

A discussion guide that can be used by teachers, book clubs, and students can be found at the author’s website, Tyler Stallings, Aridtopia Discussion Guide.

Blue West Books

Blue West Books is a literary press, formed in the arid riverbed where the Santa Ana River literally meets the road. The publishers are dedicated to creative work from western writers. Our current book list includes novels, short story collections, poetry and creative non-fiction.

Media inquires: Ben Hatheway, Creative Director, Blue West Books,


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